by Pastor Keith Graham
Please read the concluding verses of Genesis chapters 47 and 49 referenced above, then keep your Bible handy. Thank you!
In Psalm 116:15, an often quoted and beloved word from God is found: "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." God cannot be pleased - that is, He cannot find anything in us which is precious - when faith is absent from our hearts. What can the Psalmist mean but that the LORD is greatly pleased when a life of faith ends in the triumph of faith, at His final call?
Final call? That's my first point: there IS a Divinely appointed time for my death and for your death. According to His perfect and holy will, by which He orders all things in His universe, God has numbered our days with an exact number.
In Ecclesiastes, that book of the Bible describing King Solomon's own personal search for meaning, fulfillment, and peace, another well known word is found: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die..."
We read in Acts 17 about the apostle Paul in the midst of the lovers of philosophy in the city of Athens. Paul proclaimed the God Whom they worshipped as "Unknown" to those idle Athenians. As part of his important message, Paul announced to them that all men have their Divinely appointed times, along with Divinely appointed "boundaries of habitation".
Looking carefully at our Genesis 47 text, we see that the Holy Spirit first refers to the patriarch by his native name Jacob, then switches to the name Israel. The name Israel was Jacob's new, God given name, and means prince with God. Israel is also the name of the people of God, as we see in verse 27. This reminds us that it's not only the man. Israel who had an appointment with death. Those who are of the people. Israel have such an appointment as well.
Even the saints, the covenant people of God of all ages, those called out of darkness into fellowship with Him, the Israel of God as Paul calls them in Galatians 6:16, have a Divinely appointed time to depart this present world.
Did you or I have a say in when we would be born? How many here this morning (or reading these words) consulted about this with the Lord? Was there a time before your birth when you yourself suggested to Almighty God the particular moment that you should be born? So it is with the time of your death. As was the year, day, and hour of your arrival, so the year, day, and hour of your departure is God's business. He tells us only that we will surely face it when He deems it fit.
Some of you are now thinking, "well, if I attain anywhere even remotely close to Jacob's 147 years of life, I'll start to think about my coming, appointed time." Such as are proudly and foolishly thinking along these lines need to remember some other Biblical accounts of people meeting death...
Both in the gospel of Matthew and the letter to the Hebrews, Abel the son of the first man Adam is described as righteous. Having faith in God's earliest promises of a Redeemer to come (see Genesis 3:15), Abel found grace with God. Yet, this saint was murdered in his youth at the wicked hands of his own brother. That was Abel's appointed time to die.
Jacob had a beloved wife, Rachel. This young woman, also called by God's grace away from her father Laban's home to be a member of the household of faith, this matriarch of the covenant family, died in childbirth. That was Rachel's appointed time to pass away.
Moving forward into the New Testament, we need not go very far to find another example. King Herod had been foretold of the birth of One to be called King. Fearing a rival, the wicked Herod murdered all the male children two years old and UNDER who lived in Bethlehem and its environs. In the Providence of God, those little children had a time appointed to leave this world which was not far removed from the appointed time that they came into it.
So, according to Scripture, clearly there is an APPOINTED TIME for every death. Moreover, even for the people of God, it is possible that death come in violent, unsuspected ways. These things are sobering - even grievous - to contemplate, but it is necessary to do so. One reason is so that we may be lead further, to consider what happens AFTER death.
What happens beyond death is beyond our experience. We must learn from One Who knows about it...by FAITH.
(And I am constrained to add a comment here, dear people of God. Please don't put any confidence in the various reports of "after death experiences" which are so popular today. By doing so, you are making yourself vulnerable to the deceitfulness of your own heart, Jeremiah 17:9. You are also exposing yourself to Satanic deception. Have nothing to do with these lies, knowing that while the unbelieving world can but grope in bewilderment, and be deceived by the flesh and the devil, you have a sure Word from on high, from One Who can speak with authority about these matters.)
We said that what happens before birth is beyond our experience. To illustrate: we must learn about the Persian Empire or the War Between the States from records about them left behind by those who were there. Likewise realities about our personal lives are taught to us by those who were there from the beginnings of those lives. From earliest years, we are told for example: "this is Uncle Joe", or "this is Cousin Laura". In a more rudimentary way, we were informed from infancy by our parents of even their identity. We have no previous knowledge of any of these people. We were told who they are, and began to live in the appropriate relation with them. This was all because we had implicit faith in what we had been told. Could you be convinced otherwise in adulthood about who they are? Even so with what is beyond death. There is Someone Who knows about it, and can tell us.
And that Someone is able to tell us because He is God, and as God He knows all things. Not only so, but He is doubly able to tell because He became a Man, entering into our time and space existence, and into death itself. He met death on the field of battle, so to speak, and by dying conquered death. This One has been through death and come forth victorious, being alive forevermore! This One, even our Lord Jesus Christ, can tell us what is beyond the grave!
The faith of Israel then, the man and the people, is a faith in the RESURRECTION!
As we read the account of his passing out of this life in Genesis, we see that Jacob was not wondering "what will happen to me", because He had an assurance from God on the basis of faith: he was moving on to a better life. He was about to be, as the Bible puts it so beautifully, "gathered to his people".
The soul of Israel went to join the faithful that had preceded him into God's presence at the moment of his death, as we see in chapter 49. Perhaps symbolizing the end of a WALK of faith, the Spirit of God mentions that Jacob DREW HIS FEET INTO HIS BED. Then Israel breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
He was also gathered to his people in another sense. He was gathered to them as to his body, as we see by the promise he exacted from Joseph, and the explicit instructions Jacob gave to all his sons about his burial. He was not to be interred in Egypt, but in the land of promise...in that burial place which was the only piece of real estate his grandfather Abraham had acquired in that land. Jacob's faith was a faith that perceived the bodies of God's people as destined for resurrection.
Surely, all the faithful saints of Scripture had a faith in the resurrection of the physical body. Their hope was not for some vague, ghostly "afterlife". As David says in Psalm 17:15, "As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness, I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness."
So the apostle John was thinking, when He wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit of God that when the Lord Jesus appears, we shall see Him as He is, because we shall be like Him, 1 John 3:2.
So Job comforted himself, when he expressed confidence that even after "worms destroy this body", yet IN HIS FLESH he would see God, Job 19:26.
And so Paul, when he wrote that the Lord Christ will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious BODY, Philippians 3:21.
Jesus Himself showed that His opponents the Sadducees "knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" when it came to the resurrection, see Matthew 22:23ff. The Sadducees were a sect existing at the time of Christ which denied the resurrection. They can be compared to the nominal Christianity of today which wants a Christianity that is moralistic only, devoid of the miraculous and the supernatural. In arguing for the reality of the resurrection of the body with these Sadducees, Jesus appealed to the account in Exodus, wherein God proclaims Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and JACOB...the God of the living! The point Jesus makes is that the very Jacob we are discussing was still ALIVE in God's heavenly presence in Moses' own time, hundreds of years after the historical events described by Moses in Genesis. Jacob was still alive in the days of Jesus' earthly life. Jacob is alive with God today! As a believer in the glorious Gospel, I myself expect to meet and converse with this same Jacob some day, in my resurrected body! If you are a believer in Christ, this is what you may expect also.
In Matthew 8, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven as a real place where many would SIT AT TABLE with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Disembodied spirits or persons who have simply ceased to exist do not sit at table long after their physical death. The universal testimony of God's word is that there is a very real, bodily, eternal life of unimaginable bliss and joy for the people of God.
What evidence do we see of the faith of Israel the man as he is dying? Works are the evidence of faith. Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. Nevertheless, works are the only evidence of faith, as James writes. How can we see Jacob's faith in this poignant testimony about his exit from this present evil world?
In order to see that evidence, we need to briefly consider the material between the two passages in Genesis with which we have been dealing. We may briefly summarize what takes place in Genesis 48 and the larger part of Genesis 49 as follows:
Knowing his appointed time is near, Jacob summons first Joseph, and later the rest of his large family. He gives them instructions about his burial, and then proceeds to bless, exhort and chasten them, and proclaim to them by the Holy Spirit what will take place in the future. Foretold are the numerous descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph's own natural sons whom Jacob lovingly claims, that they may become heads of tribes. The cruelty and anger of Simeon and Levi, the treacherous masterminds behind the murder of the Shechemites, is shunned and condemned. We read here the glorious prediction of the supremacy of that lion's whelp, Judah, fulfilled in David and in David's greater Son, the Lord Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
What majesty there is in this scene: a patriarch 147 years of age, of vast experience in earthly joys and sorrows, about to go to his heavenly home! Here was a man who in those 147 years had seen visions of angels, and wrestled with THE Angel of the presence of the God Who spoke directly to him more than once. He had fled from enemies in the persons of his own brother and his uncle. Jacob had gone from servanthood to great wealth. His daughter had been raped, and a son he thought killed by animals was found alive years later. These are only some of the signal events of the patriarch's life. Having come through it all in his walk of faith, he is now surrounded by his loving family at the end of his long, toilsome course.
Beside him were his twelve sons, and the two grandsons were probably present, perhaps also his daughter Dinah and other descendants. The Egyptians were still regarding the covenant family as people to be honored on account of Joseph, the hero of their famine-stricken nation. It is therefore likely that this solemn and holy occasion did not take place in lowly surroundings, but in elegant ones. Nor was there any oppressive shadow cast there by infirmity or disease on the part of the dying one. The text does not offer any indication that Jacob's death bed was a painful one. He was obviously alert, in full possession of his faculties, and able to speak with prophetic power in the form of poetic discourse.
What a sense of awe must have been in that hushed company, as they contemplated the dealings of their faithful covenant God in connection with the head of the covenant family, the heir of their great forefathers Abraham and Isaac!
Most of all, we see the courage of the man Israel. By faith Israel meets death to the glory of God, thus making his death precious to God. He faces death without fear. Such courage is a work of a faith that is God given and supernatural; a working faith that overcomes that most profound and universal of natural fears...the fear of death.
A recent movie centers around the relationship of two sisters, one dying of a dread disease. In one emotional scene, the dying one embraces her sister and tearfully expresses her consuming fear of approaching death. Perhaps you have a loved one greatly fearful because death seems near. Perhaps you yourself are in this state. For the Christian, this need not be so. Take courage! Jesus has said, "I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades."
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the Lord Jesus partook of flesh and blood like ours, that He might deliver those who for fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage, Hebrews 2:15.
We don't see Jacob fearful and self-centered in death. This was a WORK of Jacob's faith! His faith is seen at work also as he focuses on ministering to his family in this critical hour. And what greater opportunity can there be to speak to loved ones about what is most important? Christian, do you have beloved family members to whom you desire to witness about the Lord? Will your faith make you ready to complete your testimony with power and grace at the time of death? When are unbelieving ears more disposed to listening? When are unbelieving hearts more tender?
When Abraham was gathered to his people he ministered even by his death a reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael. In a similar way, when Isaac was gathered to his people, we read that his sons Jacob and Esau, not famous for their brotherly affection, came together and buried Isaac.
How will you and I face death? How can you and I face it with courage and a triumphant, working faith? Will we bless those we leave behind as we pass on to glory? We can do this through our Lord Jesus Christ! His words at the grave of His friend Lazarus in John 11 are not in vain:
"He who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die", John 11:26.
On that day, Jesus asked Martha if she believed this - if she had faith. Remember our comparison: from birth we are told who our family members are; that's how we first know them. And we know what is beyond death in a similar way: we are told by One who knows. What if you were to begin to darkly question that one of your loved ones were really who you had always believed him or her to be? What if you were to say to a brother you had known from since you have memory, "I don't think you're REALLY my brother".
It would hurt that one, would it not? Even so, a saint doubting what God tells us in His holy Word the Bible about what is beyond physical death takes away from the precious-ness of that saint's death in the sight of God.
We have seen that Christians are not exempt from death on the physical level; that is, what we can see. Unbelievers die of cancer, Christians die of cancer. Older unbelievers pass away painlessly, older Christians pass away painlessly. Youthful unbelievers die in traffic accidents, and youthful Christians die in traffic accidents. But O the difference in the spiritual realm! What happens after death for the unbeliever and what happens after death for the Christian are like night and day.
The Bible clearly teaches that there are only two places where every human being will exist for all eternity. One is the place of everlasting love, joy, and peace in the Divine presence: that is, heaven, where believers will sit at the Lord's own feasting table with the patriarch Jacob and all the saints of old, an eternal home for the eternal covenant people, the Israel of God.
The other place is described in Scripture as the lake of fire, a place where worms and fire torment forever, indeed where the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, Revelation 14:11.
The Lord Jesus is the great divider of humanity. He said that He came not to bring peace, but a sword, Matthew 10:34. His mighty sword, the Word of God, the Word of the Gospel, separates the two companies, each a vast multitude - the one destined for heaven and the other destined for hell.
In the gospel, Christ tells us not only what is beyond death, but how we may be partakers in God's glorious salvation. It is a salvation that includes fellowship with those saints already with God, joyfully awaiting their resurrection, and with those on earth looking forward to being gathered to this people. We may be part of it all and have forgiveness of all sin by believing on the name of Christ the Savior, thus receiving salvation as God's free gift.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus said that He came to give His life as a ransom for many. When Jesus died on the cross, he was vanquishing death by removing the cause of it...the just judgment against sinners for their wicked rebellion against God. In love, God took this penalty upon Himself in the Person of the Lord Jesus, God in the flesh. When Jesus rose from the dead, this was a sign that this sacrifice - this offering of Himself through the eternal Spirit as a substitute for those who deserved hell - was acceptable to God as overwhelminly just and full satisfaction. Now, a sinner can be justified (declared righteous) by faith in Christ's saving work.
In this day of salvation, God calls men, women, and children who know their need for salvation to simply believe this Gospel message, and thus be saved..."believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and YOU SHALL BE SAVED!"
This message was preached (in its original and somewhat shorter form) at Locktown Presbyterian Church near Flemington, New Jersey on July 13, 1997; at Mount Carmel Church in Somerset, New Jersey on July 20, 1997; and at New Life Church in Middletown New Jersey on June 25, 2006 A.D.
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